Mayor Lightfoot announced a new campaign focusing on mental health Wednesday. As part of the initiative, police will partner with mental health professionals as part of a new co-responder pilot program. Mayor Lightfoot highlighted the new initiative at a roundtable discussion at City Hall.
Chicago Police have been tasked to handle mental health calls that flow through 911. This program will include officers who are trained in mental health responses. Activists have long asked for a plan to address non-life-threatening responses without the involvement of the police.
The initiative, “Un_Spoken” will seek to combat the negative stigma surrounding mental health and increase awareness about the resources offered by the city. Mayor Lightfoot’s predecessor, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was criticized by advocates for closing mental health facilities, primarily in black and brown neighborhoods. Since taking office, Mayor Lightfoot has tripled the city’s mental health budget from $12 million to $36 million.
“Increasing our residents’ access to high-quality, affordable, and conveniently-located mental healthcare resources is crucial to our ability to ensure their success and protect their wellbeing,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “Fulfilling this goal has been especially pertinent during the pandemic, which has exacerbated many of the socioeconomic stressors that drive mental illness. Thanks to this incredible campaign, we will be able to not only raise more awareness about and connect residents to the wealth of mental healthcare resources our city has to offer but further root the recovery of our communities at the heart of our COVID-19 response.”
This new initiative comes at a time where more support is needed surrounding mental health. In 2019 the city’s mental health budget serviced 5,000 residents a year. The COVID-19 pandemic and violence have affected more residents than ever before. In the last six months, the city’s mental health budget serviced 16,000 residents. The trauma of violence increased economic instability and a global pandemic has increased the need for mental health services and emotional support to residents, particularly those in black and brown communities.
Through an $8 million-dollar annual investment funded by private donors, 32 trauma centers of care are planned in communities of highest need. These centers will provide care to all residents regardless of ability to pay, health insurance, or immigration services. Diana Castaneda, Director of Youth and Crisis Services at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago says, “In the field of mental health treatment and crisis intervention, reaching people before they get to a point of crisis is critical,”
The city’s mental health campaign launches August 30 with a new website that will include a resource finder and a crisis assistance response and engagement (CARE) program fully integrated with the city’s 911 response system. This will help individuals work with a team of professionals who can help connect residents to community resources and supports.
Danielle Sanders is a writer and journalist living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSanders20 and @DanieSandersOfficial.